I’m not much of a wildlife photographer. I’ve never really had much of an opportunity to photograph majestic wildlife other than in a zoo.
This year, I’ve had the opportunity to track and photograph a few birds. First was the bald eagle. It was awesome seeing a bird that holds such significance in our nation. However, it was much more exciting to find and photograph the snowy owl.
I went out searching for the owl a few weeks back, thinking the arctic bird would make an excellent cold weather feature photo. After a couple hours of searching and no luck, I called it a day.
The following week, I paired up with a man that is much more experienced when it comes to tracking and photographing birds. He took me to an area in Illinois that has similar features to the owls native tundra. We spotted four different owls that day. Some were on roof tops. Others were in snow-covered fields. Spotting them can be very difficult. They are a seriously camouflaged bird.
On that outing, I was seriously underpowered when it came to my lens. I was shooting with a Canon 300mm f/2.8 with a 2X teleconverter attached for an effective 600mm f/5.6 lens. All of these images still required a significant crop.
I decided I wanted to go back out again to get better owl photos. I borrowed a 600mm f/4 lens from a friend and headed out this morning. I kept the 2X teleconverter handy for an effective 1200mm f/8. I also brought along a 1.4X teleconverter to give an 840mm f/5.6. Needless to say, I had a bit more reach this time around.
The light wasn’t ideal. I saw three different owls (possibly a fourth). I also had a little more time this morning. Here is my take in no particular order.
I reluctantly include this next photo. I am a photojournalist. With that comes a set of ethics. I refuse to stage an image. Ever. In wildlife photography, that staging element can come by a photographer baiting the animal. That’s exactly what happened in this next image.
I was sitting, watching the owl as it was perched on a rooftop (as seen above). I was waiting for the owl to take off to get some shots of it flying. Another car pulled up behind me and a man got out with a camera. He seemed to walk around in the road a bit. Then all of the sudden, the owl darts down toward him and picks up a mouse. No doubt that photographer baited this owl.
Beside the ethics of staging an image, there are a whole slew of issues with baiting. This owl then followed the photographer that fed him. It was learning a behavior not natural to the species.
This topic is debated endlessly so I’ll leave my rant to that. Just to be clear, I am 100% against baiting wildlife.
To read more about the owls, read the article my coworker wrote for the paper.